“They were probably never real Christians anyway,” a friend remarked with despairing, cold comfort. We were discussing friends who had left Christianity after a messy church situation. Because of the church crisis, people became confused, scattered, and heartbroken. As a result, some who once seemed devoted to God were no longer sure what they believed. Through the years, I’ve had friends and family in various high-profile churches that blew up, including Mars Hill, Sovereign Grace, and a smaller denomination that went through turmoil. Whether from a leader’s moral failings, intense division, sexual abuse mishandling, or petty cruelty, the disruption of a church community always leaves havoc in its wake.

Another friend grimly told me that it just showed how little faith we should put in people, and we should instead put all of our faith in God alone. “God alone” is a significant emphasis for those discouraged and even traumatized by their church experience, as many are left wondering whether any church is worth the risk. Still others leave God behind, as well as the church.

I know of pastors’ kids who eventually left the faith, influenced by the unfair vitriol they saw their parents live through in the ministry. I’ve talked to women who have been deeply scarred by church discipline or corporate shaming for divorcing their abusive husband or church leaders who mishandled their abuse or the abuse of their children. They still have faith in God, but they couldn’t see how the church could be a help. After all, it was the church that made their situation far worse, instead of bringing healing. After my personal wounds in the church, I also struggled with wondering whether the ...

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